A career in English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

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As a trainee or novice ESL teacher, you may have come into ESL teaching from some other profession such as, for example, business, engineering, or tourism.

If this applies to you, after a few years of general ESL teaching – you could switch to a career in teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP). The phrase ‘specific purposes’ in ESP relates to the particular ‘subject matter’ for which English is required. For instance, if a class of businessmen requires English, the specific purpose would be English for ‘business’ purposes. If it’s a class of aircraft technicians, the specific purpose would be English for ‘aeronautical engineering’ purposes, etc. Unlike general ESL students, ESP students are taught English within a specialized context that is already known to the ESP students: usually the students’ profession.

Consequently, teaching must be geared to language usage that is applicable to the ESP students’ particular profession and which can be used practically for the relevant specific purpose. For the general ESL teacher, this could be a fascinating and rewarding career change: the ESP teacher would also learn a lot of interesting information about the ESP students’ professions. ESP teaching would be particularly appealing to ESL teachers who had previously worked in the same profession as the ESP students. In those cases where the ESP students have little or no basic knowledge of English, the advantage would be twofold: ESP teachers from the same professional background would have already been trained as general ESL teachers; therefore, they would know how to teach basic English, and they would know – because of experience – what would need to be taught for the purposes of the particular profession.

ESP teachers who are also former professionals would also have a deep knowledge of the terminology, collocations, and jargon that have to be taught; this is especially important since ESP focuses primarily on the contextual usage of language, rather than on teaching grammar and language structures. An additional advantage of having a background in the same profession as the ESP students are that the ESP teacher will not require a content specialist for preparing lesson plans. Furthermore, some ESP teachers who do not have the same background as the ESP students may develop a feeling of inadequacy and a loss of self-confidence because of their lack of knowledge in the subject matter. Again, this is something that will not be experienced by the ESP teacher who has the same professional background as the ESP students. ESP teaching could be a rewarding career change for some ESL teachers. If an ESL teacher was formerly in the same profession as the ESP students, it could be an especially rewarding career and of invaluable benefit to the ESP students.

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